On November 5, the M23 officially called and end to is armed rebellion with its fighters surrendering to the FARDC/MONUSCO, or fleeing to neighboring Uganda. The later was the case for the rebellion’s military leader, Colonel Sultani Makenga, who was reported to be with a bloated 1,700 of his men in a national park across the border.
In a shocking but not so surprising statement, the Ugandan government made it clear on November 8 that it would not hand the rebels over to DRC authorities as “they are not prisoners but soldiers who fled combats and will be treated as such”.
I would like to come back on this statement, as it baffles all existing principles of International Relations, something Uganda grew to be a champion of in the last years. It also puts to shame the latest African initiative to prove to the world its leaders can handle their problems on their own, the Addis Framework for peace.
1. Are M23 rebels “soldiers”?
As early as in 1919, Max Weber issued his theory according to which the State has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical violence. This is easily understandable, as in countries at peace, only certain specific State agents such as the police, the judiciary, and in extreme cases the military have the right to exercise physical coercion on individuals.
This notion of monopoly is closely linked to the one of sovereignty, as this notion means “supreme authority within a Territory”. A State that has his monopoly of the use of violence challenged in parts of its Territory therefore can’t claim to enjoy full sovereignty over its land and population.
With his recent statement and position, Yoweri Museveni actively promotes and protects Kinshasa’s loss of sovereignty over its Territory. As such, Uganda should be held accountable in front of international jurisdictions, and legally justify its position, something it failed to do so far.
2. Respecting own signature and supporting African peace processes
A treaty is an official express, written agreement that States use to legally bind themselves. It may also be known as international agreement, protocol, covenant, convention, pact or exchange letters, among other terms.
No earlier than 9 months ago, Uganda signed one of these written agreements along with 10 other African States, in a historic attempt to bring and promote an African solution to one of Africa’s longest lasting conflicts, Eastern DRC.
With the Addis Framework for Peace, not only were signatory States challenged to demonstrate their implication in durable peace, but also had the opportunity to demonstrate that African heads of States, regrouped under the African Union and other regional mechanisms, today have the capacity to handle their issues on their own, without the implication of the international community. This could have been a chance to demonstrate to the ICC that it is not needed in Africa, as some claim. Major Fail.
The Framework is a short text with few obligations for each mentioned party. Its understanding and interpretations are therefore straightforward. Regional signatory States, of which Uganda is one, only have 7 obligations to respect and fulfill under this wording:
– Non-interference in neighboring countries internal affairs
– Do not tolerate, or bring any kind of support, to rebel groups
– Respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring States
– Reinforce regional economic cooperation, in particular with regards to the trade of natural resources.
– Respect legitimate concerns and interests of neighboring countries, particularly with regards to matters of security.
– To neither harbor nor offer protection to any person accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, acts of genocide or crimes of aggression, or persons falling under the United Nations sanctions regime
– To facilitate the administration of justice through judicial cooperation within the Region
I’ve highlighted in black all engagements Museveni signed on just 9 months ago that are being baffled by this refusal to hand Makenga to DRC authorities.
By qualifying M23 rebels as “soldiers”, an attribute normally reserved to legitimate government troops, Museveni is clearly meddling in DRC’s most vital and challenging current internal affair.
I have showed above how, by denying the Congolese State use of monopoly of force, Museveni fails to respect the Congolese sovereignty.
He fails to hear the legitimate security concerns of its neighbor, by harboring a war criminal, accused of crimes against humanity (Kiwanja massacre of 2008) and falling under the UN sanction regime. Last, he refuses to implement the judiciary cooperation engagement he signed in Addis.
At the light of all this, it is legitimate to raise concerns on the security of any treaty signed by Ugandan authorities. The Addis Framework was signed by the highest one, the President, and should therefore offer the highest guarantees of due implementation. Yet, 80% of its obligations are baffled only 9 months after it was signed and widely advertised.
This attitude also illustrates one of the different reasons why the Kampala talks failed. Their chair, Museveni, today openly shows his support to the M23 rebellion, but this was known from the first GoE reports that were highlighting military and logistical support from Uganda. After this, it was a known fact that the rebellion was getting most of its revenue through the control of the Bunagana border point to Uganda, through which illegal minerals were also being smuggled within other goods. Last, some M23 leaders very openly drove cars with Ugandan license plates.
With such a biased chair, it’s no surprise that, even at the heights of its military losses, the M23 rebellion never accepted to give up on its unacceptable blanket amnesty demands. It probably felt confident in its last joker, the Chair of the meeting. Overly confident.
3. How will the International Community react?
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this last move was shocking but not surprising coming from someone like Museveni. The man has 20 years old experience of creating national and foreign rebellions, treating the Acholi minority in Northern Uganda in a questionable manner, muzzling the press and political opposition, and fueling wars abroad in full impunity. Looking for the biggest regional troublemaker these last decades? Speak to the man with the large hat!
Yet, M7 enjoys little international attention on his crimes and destabilization attempts. The M23 example is telling. While the Rwandan support was widely advertised and severely sanctioned by the international community, not one line, not one sanction was mentioned against Uganda. I find it legitimate to raise questions as to what explains this apparent impunity.
Speaking of impunity, I’ll observe the reactions of the international community to this last statement with great interest. The UN in particular has recently showed a will to up its game where needed to make sure that the 20 years old DRC conflict eventually finds an end in a reasonable future. It has also repeatedly acknowledged that lasting peace in DRC can not be achieved without putting a firm end to impunity. Will the international community be consistent with its own self and increase pressures on Uganda to comply with its own engagements, and to stop putting to shame the African attempt (Addis Framework) to find solutions to African issues? To be continued…